Wednesday, February 25, 2015

4 Weeks to Shamrock Shuffle.

One of my favorite Chicago races is coming up soon, on Sunday March 29th - the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k. This year will be my fourth time running the Shuffle. I consider this race to be the kickoff to running/racing season in Chicago, with festive crowds and runners decked out in their finest green. Check out my 2014 photo race recap here.

For running motivation, whether it be outdoors or on the treadmill, I put together a 4 week plan to get ready for the Shamrock Shuffle 8k:

This month has been a rough one for outdoor training with even colder weather than usual for February. I'm crossing my fingers for warm spring weather for this year's race. I'm also hoping to finish at least a few training runs outdoors instead of cooped up inside on the treadmill. Register for the Shamrock Shuffle here if you want to join me! For more training motivation, check out the Nike+ Training Program.

To start my outdoor training runs on the right foot, K and I are taking a long weekend trip to Seattle in a few days to visit friends and run the Hot Chocolate race! We are running the 5k, and I'm incredibly excited to check out the city and run in warm temperatures {50 degrees feels like the beach compared to home}!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Battle Ropes at CrossTown Fitness + Vegetarian Greek Stuffed Peppers.

On Saturday morning, K and I had the opportunity to try out a new interval training class at CrossTown Fitness {CTF} in West Loop, using Battle Ropes. Last fall we tried a TRX class at CTF and it was incredibly fun and a great workout, so I jumped at the chance to try another new fitness concept. CrossTown Fitness offers a number of different group workout classes, as well as personal training.

The class we attended was instructed by CTF's Fitness Director Betina Ely. The 50 minute class included a variety of workouts in 30 second intervals, incorporating Battle Ropes in several different moves. We started with stationary rope "waves" and added a full sit-up + ropes; a 1-armed plank + ropes; etc. We switched off using ropes every 30 seconds, combining jump squats, lunges, tricep dips, and burpees to round out the class. The Battle Ropes used by CTF are Spri 18-foot conditioning ropes. I am still sore on day 2 {second day soreness is no joke} so this class comes highly recommended. For more information about CrossTown Fitness, check out their FAQs, the schedule, and follow CTF on Twitter.

{I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own. I attended a media event at CrossTown Fitness to try the new Battle Ropes class}. 

I also have a "Meatless Monday" recipe to share today, for peppers stuffed with quinoa and my favorite Greek-inspired flavors - feta, kalamata olives, spinach, and oregano.

I usually have red or white quinoa on hand, but for this recipe I used tricolor quinoa for the first time. Have you tried it? I think it's my new favorite. Tricolor quinoa combines three different types, including red, white and black quinoa. I don't know quite how to describe it, but it seemed lighter than other quinoa I've made before and was perfect for this recipe. However, any type of quinoa or grain works for stuffed peppers, such as rice or farro.

Vegetarian Greek Stuffed Peppers
Serves 2.

3/4 cup dry tri-color quinoa
1 and 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 red onion {chopped}
1/3 cup kalamata olives {pitted}
3 cups spinach
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 lemon {squeezed}
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt, to taste
2 large bell peppers

How to~
*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
*Cook quinoa according to package directions.
*While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the ingredients. Chop red onion and dice kalamata olives. Clean the inside of the peppers and remove seeds.
*When the quinoa is done, fluff it with a fork remove it from the heat. To wilt the spinach, add it to the pan and stir. Cover and let the quinoa + spinach rest for at least 5 minutes.
*Add the extra ingredients to the quinoa mixture - onion, olives, crumbled feta, oregano, black pepper, and salt to taste. Squeeze in 1/4 of a lemon.
*Stuff the quinoa mixture into the peppers. Bake uncovered for ~30 minutes.

Friday, February 20, 2015

My "Must Do" List for a 5-Star Active Vacation in Puerto Rico.

This post brought to you by Puerto Rico, The All-Star Island. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Chicago Jogger.

When traveling, combining a foodie and active vacation is high on my list. The option of running and relaxing on beautiful beaches never hurts either! A few years ago, a dear friend and I took a quick trip to Puerto Rico to celebrate our graduation from law school. We stayed in San Juan at a beachfront hotel and explored nearby Old San Juan to soak in the beautiful culture. It was perfect for a long weekend trip with a quick flight out of Chicago and no passport needed. Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. located in the northeast Caribbean. As a U.S. territory, you do not go through customs or transfer money to a different currency. As a result, it's easy to jump on a plane and go - Puerto Rico is a 5-star vacation destination for a relaxing getaway any time of the year!

With the freezing weather in Chicago these past few weeks, let's dream about a tropical vacation today - what would be on your "Must Do" list in Puerto Rico? My list includes:

Experiencing historical charm.

Puerto Rico is influenced by African, Spanish, and Taino cultures. I would love to go back to Old San Juan and explore the charming streets. Other top spots for my "must see" list include visiting the Caguas Botanical and Cultural Garden, the sulfur water springs at Banos de Coamo, and touring the mansion of the family that started Don Q run, at Castillo Serralles in Ponce.

Get moving.

With warm weather year-round and the fact that Puerto Rico is home to the only rainforest in the U.S. National Park service, there is plenty of opportunity to be active and adventurous while on vacation. Horseback riding, zip-lining, and running the San-Blas Half-Marathon are at the top of my list.

Exploring beaches.

There are endless gorgeous beaches in Puerto Rico, which has 270 miles of coastline. Puerto Rico has been featured in the "Top 10" beaches from Travel Channel. Flamenco Beach in Culebra is even cited as one of the best in the world. Lounging at the beach is obviously a top reason to visit, but surfing, snorkeling, and diving to see exotic marine life and reefs are also possibilities.

Fueling with local cuisine.

With all of the activities and adventure Puerto Rico offers, the destination is also known for its delicious cuisine using international flavors. Puerto Rico is famous for plantains, offered in many different ways - both savory and sweet. Puerto Rican coffee and rum are also well-known products of the region. The volcanic soil and mountainous climate is perfect to create rich, delicious coffee beans. Puerto Rico is also famous for its rums, with four distilleries and a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1600's!

Live your own 5-star vacation story in Puerto Rico. For more information on Puerto Rico, visit; follow @PRTourismCo on Twitter; and like on Facebook.

If you were on vacation in Puerto Rico, what would be at the top of your "Must Do" list?

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Healthy Caramelized Onion & Dill Dip.

Is it really time for the Oscar's this weekend already? Slate published a funny article with a list of all 60 films nominated in 2015, ranked. I have only seen a few of the nominated movies this year {Wild, Gone Girl, The Lego Movie, and The Grand Budapest Hotel} but I'll celebrate any excuse to make a dip for friends.

This recipe is my take on traditional onion dip, made healthier by substituting 0% plain Greek yogurt for half of the sour cream you would normally use. Extra flavor comes from slowly caramelizing one yellow onion and including plenty of freshly chopped dill. I promise no one will even know this dip includes Greek yogurt when you go with the half yogurt / half sour cream combination. You can substitute even more of the sour cream for Greek yogurt if you like, it will just result in a tangier flavor. I tried this dip using only 1/4 of the sour cream and it was still tasty!

I learned a few tips on caramelizing onions in this tutorial from Simply Recipes. Slow and steady wins the race while caramelizing an onion. Does anyone else have trouble spelling caramelizing? I had to Google it.

My favorite dip pairings are rice crackers, carrot chips, zucchini slices, and pita chips. I forgot three of these during this particular dip tasting, but you can make up for my transgression! Serve this dip inside a bell pepper for an easy, healthy presentation.

Healthy Caramelized Onion & Dill Dip

1 cup sour cream
1 cup Greek yogurt {I used 0% Fage}
3 Tablespoons fresh dill {chopped}
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Caramelized Onion~ 
1 medium yellow onion
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons water

How to~
*Chop the onion into small pieces. Add 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon butter to a saute pan on medium.
*Once the oil shimmers, add onions. Continuing cooking onions on medium and stir every few minutes. After 10 minutes, add 1/4 teaspoon salt to the pan and stir.
*Continue stirring onions occasionally for ~30 more minutes, adding 2 Tablespoons of water in 10 minute intervals.
*Remove onions from the heat and let cool for ~15 minutes. While the onions are cooling, stir together the sour cream, Greek yogurt, chopped dill, salt and pepper.
*Stir in onions and the dip is ready - chill until ready to serve.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weekend + Workouts Lately.

This bitterly cold February weather can wrap up anytime, Mother Nature! Can't we turn the switch to spring a month or two early? Even with the chill, we had a lovely weekend. K and I took advantage of being early birds and started Saturday morning at Baker Miller, a Lincoln Square bakery that opened in September. We wanted a sweet and savory Valentine breakfast, and it was perfect.

Baker Miller is bright and airy with a seasonal menu, a pastry and bread bar, and eclectic sheets of art hanging on the walls. The bakery has received a lot of press lately, including Bon Appetit. Baker Miller is unique in that it only bakes with whole grains, which are locally sourced and milled by the bakery itself {aka they grind their own flour and oats}. The grains are organic and non-GMO, and several are for sale in the store. We picked up a container of Stone Cut Oatmeal to try, sourced from an Illinois farm. Baker Miller even has their own online flour shop.

K and I started with a shared cinnamon roll as an appetizer, and rounded out breakfast with oatmeal and grits. My beautiful bowl of oats included house-cultured cream, raw sugar, rolled oats, preserved cherry jam, and pecans. By far the best oatmeal I've ever had. Cherry jam is definitely making it into a future bowl of oats at home. Baker Miller also has a 'toast bar' with a toaster on each table and a communal spread of jams and other bread condiments in huge jars set on a bar on the opposite side of the bakery kitchen. Check out the seasonal menu here.

On Saturday night, we decided to stay in and cook for ourselves with a few recipes from America's Test Kitchen. I have an annual volume of their huge list of recipes and cooking techniques, and all four recipes from dinner were from the cookbook. We drank wine and made pan seared scallops and shrimp with lemon brown butter sauce, parmesan risotto, and roasted brussel sprouts. The Test Kitchen technique for roasted brussel sprouts is the best one I've tried. It includes tossing halved sprouts with oil, salt and pepper like usual, but adding 1 Tablespoon of water to the mix as well. Place the sprouts cut-side down on a pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast at 500 degrees for ~10 minutes. Take the foil off and continue roasting for another 10 minutes. The sprouts were a little bit crunchy on the outside, and so creamy inside. We added red pepper flakes for a bit of extra heat.

Workouts Lately

To round out all this talk of decadent food, here is a list of my workouts for the past two weeks.

Week of February 2nd
  • Monday: "Ballerina" Dance Cardio Class {1 hour}
  • Tuesday: 5 minute warmup walk on treadmill; ran 3.1 miles; 5 minute increasing incline + speed walk 
  • Friday: 3 mile treadmill run; arm workout {3 sets, 15 reps each}; 3 sets of 50 crunches
  • Saturday: Active rest {walked 4+ miles}
  • Sunday: Ran to/from a 1 hour Barre Class {3 miles total}
Week of February 9th
  • Wednesday: 10 minute stairmaster warmup; 2 mile treadmill run; 5 minute increasing incline + speed walk
  • Sunday: 75 minute "Detox" Yoga Class

I was sick with a cold for a few days this past week, so I decided to take it easy with workouts and rest instead. For that reason, I was able to finish reading Big Little Lies {in less than a week!} as part of the Bookish Bloggers Book Club. If you're looking for a quick and suspenseful read, I highly recommend it.

 {Image via Amazon}

Have a great Monday!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Love Yourself - A Q&A with RightFit Personal Training.

You may have noticed from the pink, red and sparkly heart decor all around that tomorrow is Valentine's Day. We are filled with messages about how to love others this month by consuming things: buy decadent chocolates; go out for a fancy dinner; buy jewelry; and don't forget to send flowers! While I embrace any day to celebrate loved ones, this is also a great reason to love yourself by trying something new for your fitness. 

As part of my 2015 resolution to get outside my fitness comfort zone, I jumped at the opportunity to ask a few questions of RightFit Personal Training founder Matthew Kornblatt. Think of RightFit Personal Training like a free online dating service for personal training; fitting for the holiday of love, no?

Why did you start RightFit and what is the inspiration behind the company?
I started RightFit because personal trainers and clients need it. Personal training is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, which creates competition amongst fitness professionals. On the client side, people are prioritizing their health and fitness, and we are seeing a societal shift focusing more on preventative healthcare. 

With so many personal trainers to select from, and so many people looking for personal trainers, there is a huge market for an online marketplace of independent personal trainers. I realized that there was nothing like it that existed, so I hit the ground running.

What is your background? 
I am from Highland Park, IL and I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in advertising. I played sports competitively growing up and have always had a passion for health and fitness. I had the opportunity to own a day camp in college, which ignited an entrepreneurial fire in my belly. After graduating and a brief stint of working in Corporate America (not for me), I decided to pursue this business venture. 

How does the RightFit process work? 
RightFit is a free service that helps people find personal trainers based on preference. Through the Quick Search, users can filter trainers based on price, specialty, location, and gender. If a user sees a trainer that she likes, she can click on the profile and send the trainer a personalized message. Users can also find a trainer by taking the Trainee Survey, which asks more in depth questions regarding what one is looking for in a personal trainer. Upon completion of the survey, I evaluate the user’s responses and send a list of suggested trainers based on the user’s goals, budget, location, and etc.

What requirements does RightFit have for trainers interested in joining the network?
All trainers must carry an active nationally recognized personal training certification and liability insurance. I personally vet each trainer to ensure that they uphold a certain level of professionalism and ethics. As the best network of personal trainers in Chicago, we can’t accept everyone.

Why do you think personal training should be part of a regular fitness routine?
If you are sick, you go to a doctor. If you travel by air, you don’t fly the plane. Personal trainers are fitness professionals. When it comes to personal fitness, there are SO many variables to take into account that it can be confusing. It is a trainer’s job to teach you how to exercise correctly, how often, and at what tempo. Leave it up to a certified personal trainer to teach you how to become the best you that you can be. Whether you are looking to lose weight, increase strength, or just improve your overall quality of life, a personal trainer will help you set and achieve all your health and fitness goals.


RightFit Personal Training serves the entire Chicagoland area, including the city and suburbs, with over 300 independent personal trainers. I tried the service myself, by filling out the Trainee Survey. The survey asks the important questions, namely where do you want to workout and why? Are you looking to limit the search to independent fitness studios in certain neighborhoods or zip codes, or do you want to workout in the comfort of your home? Do you want to train to build strength, lose weight, or increase your overall fitness?

The survey I submitted indicated my desire to increase arm strength and overall fitness, in an effort to become a better runner. After reviewing my completed survey, Matthew suggested Dan H. from DHF Lakeview Fitness and sent me his trainer profile.

I took a one-hour personal training session with Dan at his facility, which included foam rolling, arm strengthening, overall fitness moves, and stretching moves specifically designed for runners. Matthew did a great job setting up this training for me - Dan was very professional and incredibly knowledgeable! I would definitely go back for a second workout.

My last question to Matthew was this:

Where do you see RightFit going next?
Here's what I want you to do... look at a map of the United States. There.

For more information about RightFit Personal Training, check out their blog. Connect with RightFit on Facebook and Twitter.

{I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are 100% my own. I am a Strategic Partner with RightFit Personal Training, which is not compensated. I attended one free personal training session with DHF Lakeview as a new customer.}

Monday, February 9, 2015

Reebok Spartan Race Giveaway.

Good morning and happy Monday! I have an exciting giveaway to share today, for one free entry to any Reebok Spartan Race in the U.S. this season.

All you have to do is log in to the Rafflecopter widget below and comment, sharing a race you are excited for this year. For a second entry, follow Chicago Jogger on Twitter and report it in the widget. A winner will be randomly selected next Tuesday, February 17th. You have until Midnight next Tuesday to enter the giveaway. The winner's code will work one time for any open heat in a continental U.S. race {non-confirmed start time}.

What is the Reebok Spartan Race?
This race series started with a Spartan Race event in Vermont in 2010. In 2012, Outside Magazine named Spartan Race the Best Obstacle Race. In early 2013, Spartan Race partnered with Reebok.

The Reebok Spartan Race includes a unique culture and community of athletes striving together to overcome any and everything. Overcoming those obstacles may include jumping over fire, carrying objects, climbing a wall, hopping tires, climbing a rope... and much more. This race series is unpredictable - runners do not receive a course map, and don't know exactly which obstacles are coming until the race begins. There are several different types of races you can register for, including the Spartan Sprint (3+ miles with 15+ obstacles), the Spartan Super (8+ miles with 20+ obstacles), and the Spartan Beast (12+ miles with 25+ obstacles). Find more details on the FAQ page.

Where are the races?
All over the U.S.! There are two in the Chicago area {a super race on August 15th and a sprint race on August 16th}. Check out a list of other race locations and this map for more details.

What's new this year?
A few exciting things are happening this year:
1) Spartan UP! The Podcast recently launched, with inspirational stories of success. You can listen to episodes online, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or YouTube.
2) The first Spartan Cruise launches in March, including an island race in the Bahamas and prizes for the top five men and women finishers. You don't have to race to participate in this vacation; family and friends are welcome to cruise.
3) The Spartan Annual Pass is available, including entries for all Spartan Race events during the lifetime of the pass. Find more details here.

If you don't win the giveaway, you can still get 10% off registration for a Spartan Race by using the code SPARTANBLOGGER. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

{I was not compensated for this post. I was provided with one race entry to giveaway to readers and a discount code to share for an upcoming race. Ensure that you are in top physical condition and consult a doctor before signing up for any race.}

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Florida Recap + Vacation Workouts.

A few weeks ago, K and I spent a long weekend in southern Florida visiting family. The weather was incredible compared to back home! We squeezed in a lot of outdoor time, including great workouts and al freso drinks. Chicago, can it be summer soon please? Consider adding a few more palm trees to city landscaping too.

I'm here to share a few recommendations from our trip, in case you find yourself in Florida taking a break from winter sometime soon. We flew to Miami and spent the first night in Miami Beach at Riviera Suites South Beach. It was clean and modern, with two pools and easy access to the ocean, only a few blocks away. We arrived in early afternoon and researched lunch options on Yelp on our way to the hotel. We decided on a small outdoor lunch spot with amazing reviews, La Sandwicherie. If you find yourself in Miami Beach, you MUST visit! La Sandwicherie is a French sandwich spot with a juice bar and an outdoor counter where diners walk up to order. You can dine outdoors at stools lining one side of the restaurant {there is no indoor seating}. I ordered the tropical turkey sandwich, listed as a "signature" menu item. Sliced turkey, fresh cut mozzarella, avocado, cucumbers, tropical fruit {papaya, pineapple, mango} and a house French vinaigrette topped a soft, pillowy French baguette. I can't wait to make my own version once summer is back!

In a sandwich coma, we wandered to the water and walked for hours - on the beach to South Pointe Pier, down charming streets, and to happy hour. The next morning, we stopped by Crema for coffee and smoothies before hitting the road. Again, Yelp to the rescue with fantastic reviews for Crema! One iced coffee and two Greek Stallion smoothies and we were good to go - kale, spinach, almond milk, cashews, dates, cinnamon, chia seeds, and mountain honey... this is another "must recreate" recipe from the trip.

We took the scenic route driving to our final destination Marco Island, stopping at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park for a 15 mile bike ride with wildlife. Beautiful birds and alligators were everywhere you looked. We saw at least 50 gators lounging in the water and in nearby grass along the ride. I highly recommend checking out this park for an active afternoon! There were also a number of walkers on the trail, and a tram is available for those wanting a ride-and-view experience.

The rest of the trip was spent hanging out on Marco Island with my in-laws - celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday, spending time at the beach, and playing Euchre. We finished two beach runs while visiting and there was plenty of hard sand available for runners. Marco Island has beautiful white sandy beaches; the beach we explored was by far the largest I have ever seen.

On the last full day of the trip, we woke up to rainy weather and decided to head north to Sanibel Island where it wasn't storming. K and I biked from Sanibel Island to Captiva Island, through J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Both Sanibel and Captiva Islands are incredibly charming, with gorgeous beach homes lining the water. Every house on Captiva Island has a unique name: Sand Dollar, Mellow Yellow, Zurich by the Sea! We ended the bike ride with a quick visit to the beach {there were epic waves that afternoon due to strong winds!} and a late lunch at RC Otter's Island Eats. RC Otter's has a huge list of beers on tap and we very much enjoyed seafood {blackened salmon and grouper} paired with black beans and rice.

I love an active vacation. The best way to see a new place is on foot or by bike! A recap of our vacation workouts:

    Wednesday: Active rest; walked 4-5 miles 
    Thursday: Biked 15 miles at Shark Valley 
    Friday: Ran 4.6 miles on Marco Island 
    Saturday: Biked 12+ miles to Captiva Island 
    Sunday: Ran 5 miles on Marco Island

Have you ever visited Florida in the winter? After this trip I definitely see the appeal of becoming a snowbird!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chocolate Strawberry Coconut Energy Bites.

This sweet recipe for Chocolate Strawberry Coconut Energy Bites is perfect for a healthy snack.


One of my favorite movies as a kid was Groundhog Day. My brother and I had it on VHS, and we used to pull it out to watch a few times every year. We didn't catch the dark comedy, but we thought Bill Murray was hilarious. I hope I can find it playing on a station tonight, since Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning. If you didn't hear, that adorable rodent predicted six more weeks of winter. I can't say I'm surprised, since the Midwest had quite a wintry weekend - especially Chicago! As of last night we had 16 inches in the yard, and I heard the official reading is 18+ inches. I don't think we'll be hosting a barbeque anytime soon.

To cheer up from all of this snow, I have a healthy and sweet energy bite recipe to share this morning. This snack has been on my mind for weeks, ever since I realized how much I love the Chocolate Coconut Chew Larabar flavor. My Larabar obsession went sky high during the January Challenge, since the bars have no added sugars or funky ingredients. However, it's an expensive habit to keep so I'm experimenting with homemade energy bites using similar ingredients to see if I can recreate my own tasty snacks.

This energy bites recipe includes a few special ingredients: unsweetened coconut flakes and dried strawberries. I searched several stores for the unsweetened version of coconut flakes, and finally found a package at Whole Foods. The dehydrated {freeze-dried} strawberries were found at Trader Joe's. If you don't have access to dried strawberries, you can leave out the almond milk {added for moisture!} and add a few chopped strawberries instead.

The sweet platter featured in this photo was a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, Kristen from Make the Best of Everything. How perfect to show these delicious energy bites! Consider making these as a healthy Valentine snack for a friend or loved one.

Chocolate Strawberry Coconut Energy Bites
Makes 11 bites.

8 Medjool dates {pits removed}
1 scoop chocolate protein powder {I used whey}**
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup dried strawberries
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1-2 Tablespoons unsweetened almond milk

How to~
*Process almonds in the food processor. Add dates, protein powder, coconut flakes, strawberries, and coconut oil. Process a few times.
*Add almond milk. Keep processing until the ingredients are evenly combined.
*Remove from the food processor and form into balls. I used a medium-sized cookie scoop to ensure even sizing for each bite.
*Freeze {covered} for 30 minutes to harden.
*Keep frozen or refrigerated in a covered container.

**If you need a substitute for protein powder, use unsweetened cocoa powder.